detail - Foundation Office Japan / Regional Programme Social Economic Governance in Asia
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Tokyo, JAPAN - On 10-11 December 2019, Konrad Adenauer Stiftung’s (KAS) “Social Economic Policies Asia” program (SOPAS) brought together a network of economists, political analysts and thought leaders across Asia-Pacific to discuss emerging issues, propose policy alternatives and share best practices. SOPAS is a regional forum that contributes to the debate and reform of economic and governance models in Asia. In January 2020, SOPAS will begin its 2020-2022 cycle. For this cycle, the programme will focus on three strategic areas: (1) advancing female leadership, (2) free trade consolidation, and (3) the future of work. The programme will primarily work with the following countries: (1) India, (2) Japan, (3) Singapore, (4) South Korea, (5) Taiwan, and (6) Viet Nam.
The activity started with a keynote speech from Dr. Peter Hefele, the Team Lead of KAS Team Asia and Pacific during the welcome dinner on 10 December 2019. Dr. Hefele outlined KAS Asia and Pacific priority subjects which include digitalization’s economic, political and social impact, the rising threats of populism, authoritarianism and nationalism to the liberal political and economic order, among others. He stressed that KAS plays a key role in responding to these pressing international concerns by being a bridge between think tanks and policy makers, translating research into concrete policy action.
Another keynote speech was delivered by Dr. Yoichi Nemoto, former Director of the ASEAN +3 Macroeconomic Research Office on 11 December 2019. The key takeaways from Dr. Nemoto’s speech were the following:
- Asia faces three economic challenges: (1) financial instability, (2) the Chinese economy, and (3) aging.
- The financial instability in the region are mainly caused by capital outflows and credit growth, most notably in China.
- The Chinese economy’s growth had been slowing even before the trade tensions began. The slowdown was caused by financial regulatory tightening which hit hard private and smaller firms. With the ongoing Sino-American trade war, both the Chinese and regional trade turned sluggish.
- East Asian societies are rapidly aging. Social security costs have been increasing as well. Japanʼs past socio-economic projections have turned out to be too optimistic. Per-capita health care expenditures of both the aged and non-aged have grown much faster than the economic growth rates. The long-term projection of health-care expenditure could have been underestimated considerably.
The activity was divided into three workshops that were held at the Capitol Hotel Tokyu on 11 December 2019. The first workshop was facilitated by the Global Leadership Institute and the Institute of Gender Studies of Ochanomizu University. It focused on advancing women leadership in rapidly changing Japan. The workshop was facilitated by Dr. Masako Ishii-Kuntz with presentations from Dr. Yasako Sasaki, Dr. Rie Okamura and Dr. Naoko Oki. Key takeaways from the workshop were the following:
- Japanese women are heavily underrepresented in key leadership positions in both the private sector and the government.
- Policy changes should focus on alternating institutions that would enable women to engage more in business and in government. These would include leadership training, mentoring and electoral support at the political party level and the provision of cheap and reliable child care and senior care facilities for working parents.
- Attitudes on the traditional roles of women should also change by teaching elementary school children the principles of gender parity and redefining pre-conceived gender norms.
The second workshop focused on Asian free trade agreements (FTA), the trends and challenges. Dr. Masataka Fujita, the Secretary General of the ASEAN-Japan Centre. Key takeways from SG Fujita’s presentation were the following:
- Liberalization and restrictions were the main two forces that have shaped trade agreements over the years. However, recent trends showed that countries are favouring trade restriction and regulation as investors continue to resort to old-generation treaties.
- Future FTAs may bring economic benefits but countries must continuously strike a balance between the objectives of the region and its national sovereignty.
The third workshop on the future of work was facilitated by Dr. Eric Kerr of the Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore. Dr. Kerr began with a presentation and then initiated participant discussion using the World Café format. Key takeaways from this workshop include the following:
- Automation and innovation provide opportunities to make work more productive and working conditions better.
- Policies that help workers and society at large to effectively manage transitions with the least possible disruptions will help maximize the potential benefits and the unparalleled opportunities brought about by the future of work.
The event had two main outcomes. First, a network of think tanks, universities and entrepreneurs working on the three SOPAS content pillars that were based in the target countries was established. The workshop built the foundation for subsequent network expansion to include policy makers and parliamentarians. Second, the workshop results provided input in clearly defining the SOPAS strategy in the next three years (2020-2022).
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